We’re commanded to be sensitive to a convert, as we know what it’s like to be in a foreign land (Shemos 23:9):

וְגֵ֖ר לֹ֣א תִלְחָ֑ץ וְאַתֶּ֗ם יְדַעְתֶּם֙ אֶת־נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַגֵּ֔ר כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃

Do not oppress a convert: you know the soul of a stranger, for you were strangers in Mitzraim.

By the same logic, one would expect that we be commanded not to oppress a slave, as we know what it’s like from being slaves in Mitzraim. Yet the Rambam (Avadim 9:8) rules that, by non-Jewish slaves, one is technically allowed to oppress them:

מֻתָּר לַעֲבֹד בְּעֶבֶד כְּנַעֲנִי בְּפָרֶךְ. וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁהַדִּין כָּךְ מִדַּת חֲסִידוּת וְדַרְכֵי חָכְמָה שֶׁיִּהְיֶה אָדָם רַחְמָן וְרוֹדֵף צֶדֶק וְלֹא יַכְבִּיד עֵלּוֹ עַל עַבְדּוֹ וְלֹא יָצֵר לוֹ וְיַאֲכִילֵהוּ וְיַשְׁקֵהוּ מִכָּל מַאֲכָל וּמִכָּל מִשְׁתֶּה.

One is allowed to make a non-Jewish slave work with hard work. Even though this is the law, it is the the pious measure and the way of wisdom that a man be merciful, chase righteousness, not weigh his yoke on his slave, not pain him, and feed him and give him to drink from all food and drink.

The Rambam goes on to describe how the earlier Sages would give their slaves from whatever they themselves were eating, even feeding them before themselves; how they wouldn’t embarrass them, reasoning that they were sentenced to enslavement, not embarrassment; how they would listen to their sorrows and comfort them, rather than heaping pain on them; etc.

All that said: while one might be an idiot for doing so (not walking “in the way of wisdom”), the Rambam clearly writes that one is allowed to be a cruel master toward his non-Jewish slave. Why? The same way we’re supposed to be sensitive to other groups, since we know how it feels to be in that position, why isn’t there a strict requirement to be a kind master to a non-Jewish slave?

  • Do you mix Hebrew and non-Hebrew slaves customs? You also quote the Torah on Gerim - what's the connection? You also start with torture and end with עבודת פרך - those are two different things. I would like to see (and answer) both questions. You also ask "why" instead of a more general "may a master...".
    – Al Berko
    Feb 7, 2019 at 19:09
  • @AlBerko 1. I don’t mix Hebrew and non-Hebrew slaves, as the cited Halacha doesn’t apply by Hebrew slaves. 2. Read the line again: just like we’re commanded against oppressing the convert, as we know what it’s like to be in his shoes, why is there no commandment against oppressing the slave, as we know what it’s like to be in his shoes? 3. Based on the answer that’s clearly an inaccurate translation, but that was the one I was working with. 4. I know the answer to “May a master” - I cited the Rambam there. No point in asking it. So I ask “why” instead.
    – DonielF
    Feb 7, 2019 at 19:58
  • I would really like to help you but I'm confused. 1. What slaves you're asking about. 2. You keep using "oppressing" - what activity specifically you object - torture, oppressing or עבודת פרך?
    – Al Berko
    Feb 7, 2019 at 20:46
  • @AlBerko 1. Non-Jewish ones. Like I state very clearly in the question: “Why isn’t there a strict requirement to be a kind master to a non-Jewish slave?” 2. All of the above.
    – DonielF
    Feb 7, 2019 at 20:47

1 Answer 1


As @user15464 mentions in the comments, the Rambam defines "porech", or the torture that you quote as being permitted, in Avadim 1:6:

ואיזו היא עבודת פרך זו עבודה שאין לה קצבה ועבודה שאינו צריך לה אלא תהיה מחשבתו להעבידו בלבד שלא יבטל

What is "porech" labor? Labor that has no limit, or labor that is unnecessary and is asked of the servant with the intent to give him work so that he will not remain idle.

מכאן אמרו חכמים שלא יאמר לו עדור תחת הגפנים עד שאבא שהרי לא נתן לו קצבה אלא יאמר לו עדור עד שעה פלונית או עד מקום פלוני

Based on the above, our Sages said that a master should not tell a Hebrew servant: "Hoe under the vines until I come," for he has not placed a limit on the work asked of him. Instead, he should tell him: "Hoe until this and this time," or "until you reach this and this place."

Essentially, this means giving the slave work without a defined limit or giving him busy work. For a Jewish slave, this is forbidden. However, for a non-Jewish slave this is technically allowed (though frowned upon, as you quoted). This is not permitting "torture" of a slave, rather this is a mandate that Jewish slaves have an additional requirement to be treated better.

  • How do you explain the continuation of 9:4, where he describes how the חכמים ראשונים would not embarrass their slaves, or pain or anger them? It sounds like they would avoid doing so, but were not required to
    – DonielF
    Feb 5, 2019 at 15:46
  • 1
    @DonielF: You started out asking a question about torture, and you reject an answer because it leaves a loophole in permitting one to be an unreasonable boss who might offend or give them work with no sense of ending? Feb 5, 2019 at 17:47
  • @MichaBerger Sure, because it still doesn’t show that we are obligated to be sensitive to our slaves’ feelings - just that it’s a higher threshold than what I said in the question.
    – DonielF
    Feb 5, 2019 at 18:12

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .